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Spaceguard and the Amateur Astronomer
Dr. David James Johnson
 South Whitley - July 12, 1999 - Historically the amateur astronomer is responsible for more discoveries than that of the professional. Comets and Asteroids have long been objects sought by the amateur astronomer, and in a lot of cases the discovery was purely by coincidence, as the astronomer was looking at a particular area of the sky.

The major difference is that the Amateur has more time to look at the Sky, where the Professional's time is limited by observing schedules and other research interests. The professional astronomer rarely has time to just look at the sky, which is a shame, as it is still just as beautiful to gaze into, as it was when I was a child.

The point being that the amateur astronomer has and will continue to provide a vast and important service to the realm of Astronomy. In 1994 as the Comet Shoemaker Levy 9 slammed into the atmosphere of the planet Jupiter, thousands of amateur astronomers pointed their telescopes of varied design and size at Jupiter and recorded the event, and in many cases provided a place where the general public could go and view the events as they happened, adding to the publics knowledge of the event.

Amateurs also linked on the Internet with the professional astronomers, and an exchange of information on both sides occurred. For the first time in history, amateurs and professionals collaborated on a large scale basis and succeeded in obtaining a very clear picture of the events on Jupiter.

Today, these same Amateurs can continue to do the same thing, and provide an even larger service to our world, by patrolling the night sky, and continue searching for new Asteroids and Comets.

The technology is already in place, the IAU-MPC reviews and routinely post new discoveries, for review and verification, thus the protocols are in place. Most Amateurs astronomers equipment rivals the professionals, and most have PC's and CCD systems.

There exist countless thousands, if not millions of amateur astronomers world wide, and most I suspect some already have regimented observation program, and it would not take much to gain their enlistment into a Spaceguard Program.

Yet there are concerns which may arise in the Professional side of the house, however, those concerns in the area of mis-identification of an object can be easily rectified by bringing the Amateur up-to-date on the program, and procedures prior to entering into such a program.

The entrance of the Amateur into such a program, would not only be cost effective for any government, but it would also free Professionals for verification and other related projects.

In most Governments there are also warehouses of obsolete computers and possibly even optics and the like, which could be made useful once more by transferring them to use under a SpaceGuard program, to upgrade smaller or less technological advanced observatories, as communications over the Internet would be a crucial part of the program, as well as the verification process.

In the end though, the addition of the amateur astronomer into the Spaceguard Detection Network would be a logical and highly beneficial avenue to be pursued.

As this would also assist in Public Educational Programs, as with out public support, were all flipping hamburgers and McDonalds, and oblivious to whats going on above us. For those who doubt that such a system could effectively work, I would say, Hog Wash!

There exists a program at presently which is Funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Defense Department called "Hands On universe" this programs is presently set up for High School Students and has a regimented Curriculum of study, one of which is on Asteroid Detection.

These High School Students are Detecting Kuiper Belt Asteroids through this Program, they are also Learning Real Science, and when you can see it in action, and put your Hands on it, you Learn.

The bottom Line Here is that if such a system works and works well, EXPAND IT !! We need more eyes on the sky, and if governments are worried about expense, this is not an expensive program, and it is already in place, so expansion would not be a relative problem, politics may.

If expanded to encompass an International role as suggested by the initial reports issued by The Spaceguard Foundation in 1992 and 1995, all goals set by Spaceguard could realisticaly be achieved, and at a comfortable cost, ans another side effect would be the education of the public as well as a means to attract the next generation to explore the realms of science.

Thus the benifits are emmense, and the only thing hindering this progress is the stailmate, and inaction of the Big Kids on the Block.

The leadership for this program is out there, and there also exists an Internation Team Ready to jump into this program, they are merely waiting for a True Leader to step forward and take the helm.

Spaceguard is one way we can explore the universe collectively and in peace, it is also a place wherein the citizens of our world can make a difference and work togeather as one to insure the survivability of mankind, as this is truly what Spaceguard is about, survival.

  • Dr. David James Johnson

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